This study explores the relation between pain sensitivity and the cognitive processing of words. 130 participants evaluated the pain-relatedness of a total of 600 two-syllabic nouns, and subsequently reported on their own pain sensitivity. The results demonstrate that pain-sensitive people associate words more strongly with pain than less sensitive people. In particular, concrete nouns like ‘syringe’, ‘wound’, ‘knife’, and ‘cactus’ are considered to be more pain-related for those who are more pain-sensitive. These findings dovetail with recent studies suggesting that certain bodily characteristics influence the way people form mental representations (Casasanto, 2009). We discuss three mechanisms which could potentially account for our findings: attention and memory bias, prototype analysis, and embodied cognition. We argue that, whereas none of these three accounts can be ruled out, the embodied cognition hypothesis provides a particularly promising view to accommodate our data.
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